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Coach Mike Tellez leads successful wrestling program

WHITTIER — In 2006 the Rio Hondo College Wrestling program was on the brink of extinction.

Enter Mike Tellez.

As an assistant in 2006 and then becoming the head coach the next season, Tellez began a transformation of the program and has never looked back for the last 14 years.

Tellez, who was an All-American wrestler at Rio in 1985-’87, has seen multiple All-Americans, won five conference titles as a team and had four individual CCCAA State Champions.

“We’ve had great success at Rio Hondo, being a smaller program,” said Tellez, who won his seventh Coach of the Year honor. “We have a hard-working team and we take what we have and we know we have to develop it.

“We usually have a smaller team (18-25 wrestlers). We’ve got guys that maybe didn’t have success in high school, but have way better success in college. Kahlil Tucker, our state champion last year, was a CIF placer and didn’t qualify for state in high school. His first year here, he didn’t qualify for state, and the second year he is state champ.”


Rio Hondo wrestlers, Donavon Sanin, right and Adrian Rios, bottom work out in the wrestling room at Rio Hondo College in Whittier. (Photo by Keith Durflinger)


Tellez, who has a staff of six assistant coaches, emphasized about how hard Tucker worked to get there.

“I think it was the hard work of him buying into the system that we have,” said Tellez, who wrestled at Rio Hondo from 1985-’87. “Our motto here is: ‘When the kid wins, it’s the kid. When the kid loses, it’s the coaching.’

“He bought in and did everything that we asked him to do and earned it. He went from being not ranked to being the state champ.”


Kahlil Tucker was named Rio Hondo College’s Male Athlete of the Year. (Photo courtesy CCCAA/David Sanborn)

Tucker: 2019 State Champ
Tucker, who wrestled at Montclair high school, became the fifth consecutive wrestler to be named Rio Hondo Male Athlete of the Year. The other four were: Daniel Romero (2015), Josh Caro (2016), James Schmidt (2017), Diego Sanchez (2018) and Tucker.

Tucker became Rio Hondo’s first state champion since 2017, when Schmidt captured the 157-pound title.

Tucker, now at Texas Wesleyan University on a full ride scholarship, finished his Rio Hondo career as a state champion in the 133 Lb. weight class.

In one short year, Tucker went from not qualifying in the CCCAA So Cal Wrestling Regionals (2018), to winning a state title (2019).

Along with Tucker’s success, the team finished ninth in the state, as they qualified seven to the finals.

The seven qualifiers were: Adrian Guevara (125), Tucker (133 Lbs.), Christian Espinoza (141), Jesus langarica (141), Ismael Cruz (149), Isaac Escareno (157) and Andy Voong (197).
The Roadrunners’ ninth-place finish was the programs best since a seventh-place showing at the 2011 state championships.

The third state placer for the Roadrunners was Voong. He finished fifth.

Kahlil, who had 45 college scholarship offers, is getting ready for the upcoming season at the Fort Worth campus.

“It didn’t hit me when coach (Tellez) told me,” said Kahlil, who is a two-time All-American. “I was really excited.”

Kahlil gives credit for most of his success to one of Tellez’ assistant coaches in particular – Jose Maldonado.

“(Coach Maldonado) perfected my moves,” Tucker said. “He taught me a lot of things. One day, this is when everything changed. He taught me one move, one time and ever since then, I’ve been taking off.”

Tellez said that one big thing that Tucker added to his time at Rio was his energy.

“He brought everyone in the room up with his enthusiasm,” Tellez said. “It (energy) brought the room up. Everyone liked to be around Kahlil. Jose (Maldonado) was an integral part of Kahlil winning state.”

Tucker, who is thinking about wrestling down a weight class at 125 Lbs., knows how valuable Tellez and his coaches are to the program.

“(Coach Tellez) is very cool, but very serious when he has to,” Tucker added. “When it’s time to work hard, everyone gets real quiet.”

Tellez, who took over the program from Paul LeBlanc, knows the value of having state champions in the program.

“It helps the program,” Tellez said. “People see where Kahlil was and where he ended up. Where he is now helps with recruiting.”

Some of Tuckers’ achievements:
1.) Two-time Academic All-American
2.) First Team All-Southwest Conference
3.) Second seed in 2019 CCCAA State Championships
4.) Come-from-behind win in state championship match, 7-6 decision on a late 2-point reversal


Kahlil Tucker was named Rio Hondo College’s Male Athlete of the Year. (Photo courtesy CCCAA/David Sanborn)

Kahlil knows his place in wrestling and the team.

“Wrestling has always been very positive,” he said. “I got to keep the team happy.”

Tucker is already making waves at Texas, as he defeated teammate and a former Texas state high school runner-up in a challenge match, 17-4.

Tucker is one of four Rio Hondo athletes to receive scholarships to college. One of those four, Espinoza, is his friend and current teammate at Texas Wesleyan.

“When I heard Tuck won Athlete of the Year, I was so proud of him,” said Espinoza, who was Athlete of the Year at Cal High in 2017 and 2019 CCCAA State runner-up. “Having somebody I know (at college) and pushing you really helps. We are close friends.

“I had close connections at Rio with the coaches. Coach Tellez said, ‘If you work hard you can go anywhere in college.’ (Coach Tellez) has been like a second dad to me while at Rio. He is an awesome guy and has great knowledge of the sport.”

Espinoza said of former Rio wrestlers: “It’s more than a team, it’s a family. They always have people (alumni) come back.”

Espinoza, who will wrestle at 141 Lbs. in college, actually has a mini shrine in his dorm room of some of his achievements in high school and college. A reminder of home!

Tellez, who is a former coach at Rosemead and biology and physiology teacher, has great respect for his coaches, who are a major part in the success at Rio.

“Five of my six coaches are Rio wrestling alumni and my other coach, Tim Hawkins, is a former two-time CCCAA State Champion from Mt. SAC,” Tellez said. “We care about the program. Jose (Maldonado) and Tim (Hawkins) are my lead assistant coaches and they do a fantastic job in coaching our guys up.”

Tellez pointed out that their goal, as a program, is to get the student-athletes to college.

“When you wrestle for us, we make sure we bounce you out,” Tellez added. “This past year, of our 10 guys, we had four sophomores and all four got scholarships and bounced out.”

They are: Tucker and Espinoza (Texas Wesleyan University), Sanchez, 285 Lbs. (Menlo College) and Guevara, 125 Lbs. (San Francisco State).

On the wall at Rio Hondo in the wrestling room are pictures and certificates of past All-Americans and champions. Tellez is very proud of those names.

“The main reason I put the names up is inspiration and it’s definitely motivation and to pay respect to the guys who have gone through the program,” said Tellez, who was a member of the 1987 Rio Hondo State Championship team.

“I was fortunate to be coached by Ken Bos when I wrestled at Rio Hondo and use a lot of what I learned from him when coaching now,” Tellez said.

Team highlights over the years:
1.) Eight athletes named to the All-Academic team last year
2.) Six consecutive top 15 finishes in state
3.) 15 All-Americans since 2007
4.) 37 state placers since 2007
5.) 9 wrestlers in the state championship match
6.) Third most Academic All-Americans for wrestling in the state since 2007
7.) In 2018 Rio Hondo broke the long-standing state record of seven Academic All-American wrestlers with eight.


Jesse Cruz Memorial Scholarship
Rio Hondo has a scholarship, the Jesse Cruz Memorial Scholarship that is given to a sophomore who is moving on to college. The parents, Jesse Cruz, Sr. and Mindy Cruz, present a $500 check at their annual awards banquet.

Cruz, who passed away in 2010, graduated from Northview High. He placed seventh in the CCCAA State Championships in 2009.

“I think about Jesse every day,” Tellez said.


What they said:
Jose Maldonado, assistant coach: “It’s awesome to be to give back to the community, not only as an alumnus, but I have a genuine passion to help the student-athletes in our program and make sure we thrive as a family. I’m hopeful that we get to have a full on season. To compete and showcase our guys is important. They’ve been working out and basically getting a chance to go out there and compete.

Tim Hawkins, assistant coach: Wrestling as a community, is always about giving back to the younger generation. In junior college, you never know what you’re going to get sometimes, but to get the athletes to exceed, that’s my goal. With COVID, I’m missing the athletes getting on the mat and being with the students and the interaction.”

Adrian Rios, sophomore: “My dad used to (wrestle) back in the past and I just kind of followed his family footsteps and fell in love with it and banging it out with my teammates. I look forward to the season and getting better and being prepared. I’m just conditioning at home with my dad and my teammates sometimes. When the time does come that we are ready.

Donovan Sanin, freshman: “Bonding with the team and getting better is a goal. I came off of a good season in my senior year at Gabrielino, but I’m looking to improve. I fell in love with (wrestling) over the past four years in high school. Once it was over in my last match, I kind of had a bitter taste left in my mouth and wanted more. Hopefully everything can open up again and we can start competing. I’m just focusing on getting stronger and faster.

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